Great Antidote Extras: Scott Lincicome on the New American Worker

labor markets labor regulations regulatory capture

Christy Lynn for AdamSmithWorks

Scott Lincicome and host Juliette Sellgren talk about the range of policies that are considered “pro-worker” and how that range is often artificially narrowed. They explore the challenges of messaging and suggest possible solutions.  
Scott Lincicome comes back to The Great Antidote to talk about who “The New American Workers” are and what, if anything, should be done to help them. Lincicome is an author of the new book Empowering the New American Worker: Market‐​Based Solutions for Today's Workforce (Cato Institute, 2023). 

Lincicome and host Juliette Sellgren talk about the range of policies that are considered “pro-worker” and how that range is often artificially narrowed. Lincicome reminds listeners that “American workers” are not homogeneous. Different people want different things at different times. Many (all?) change their minds about what they want, sometimes slowly and rarely but sometimes quickly and frequently. 

Government officials might see workers as victims that must be saved but Lincicome argues for the virtues of flexibility and an even playing field for all and “letting workers be the workers they want to be.” The problem, of course, is all those people who disagree. Some of the specific examples they touch on are labor regulations, minimum wage laws, independent contractor regulations, land use regulations, and why cars don't suck as much as they used to in the 1980s. 

This episode also has the distinction of Sellgren giving (perhaps) the worst election pitch imaginable: 
Imagine if I could promise you more money, more jobs, and more freedom. What do you say? All I have to do is actually deregulate, not promise you anything new. 

But she redeems herself with a more practical suggestion a little later: 
Maybe the way to defend the free market is actually just to remind people how much better their lives are.

Lincicome does remind listeners how truly awful taxi cab monopolies were and Sellgren makes everyone who ever had to call one feel REALLY old. (Or maybe that was just me. But I don't think so.)

Lincicome ends by agreeing with Sellgren: 
We also totally take for granted so many of the new technologies and, and other things that are greatly enabled by globalization. It's not just about smartphones and apps and the rest. I mean, you can go down the list of products that if they did exist, they were super expensive back in the day, but most likely they didn't exist at all. And, you know, a lot of that we just take for granted now. So, certainly I think it's important for free marketeers like me, to remind you kids about how much life sucked back in the olden days because so much of what drives anti-capitalist stuff is this nostalgia. "Life was great for families in the 1970s or the 1950s." There's this meme that keeps circulating about how amazing life was on one income in the 1950s and it's absolute nonsense if you look at the data and the rest. But that stuff is very powerful. And so it's critical, I think for, for guys like me to remind the kids that, uh, no, it was not amazing for the vast majority of people, particularly middle class folks and poorer folks. Life has really, for the most of us, never been better. 
There’s never enough time to answer all the questions raised by a guest but here’s a few in case Lincicome comes back a third time. Or I could probably check out his book...
1. Are there some private sector workers that government officials should privilege? How do we identify those workers and think carefully about the scope of the privilege they deserve?   

2. Should states have a greater scope for giving privileges to some workers because they can more closely reflect the values of their residents? Or should states be more limited because they might be more easily captured by a strong special interest group?

3. Lincicome makes a distinction between the kinds of policies that he and his book recommend and the kids of policies that politicians and voters like. Has he heard Michael Munger talking about directionalists and destinationists on this week's EconTalk?!? How might one chose between being a directionalists or a destinationists and where would he place his project in that dichotomy? 

Related content
Alex Aragona’s Adam Smith on the Interests of Labor and Business at AdamSmithWorks
John A. Robinson and J. Robert Subrick’s Adam Smith and the Labor Theory of Value at AdamSmithWorks
Bryan Caplan’s Pro-Market AND Pro-Business at EconLib
Brent Orrel’s Where's the Muscle? at Law&Liberty
EconTalk episodes with a variety of workers